Strategies for Managing Your Business in Uncertain Times
By Carl Franzen
Many employers have suddenly shifted the way they do business and are having most employees work from home, a transition that presents new and unforeseen challenges. For managers in charge of teams moving suddenly from an office work environment to a remote one, the big question is: how to maintain team cohesion, productivity and morale as much as possible when the team is scattered outside of their usual workplace? Each team’s particular situation is unique, but here are best practices for owners and managers to help their teams adapt, according to experts.
Complete an IT Inventory
Technology is likely the backbone of your workplace, and that’s no less true now that your team is working remotely. It’s incumbent upon managers to evaluate which IT their newly remote workforce needs to get the job done, ensure they have it, and to make sure it stays secure.
A good first step for managers is to survey employees — via phone, email, or online survey (such as free Google Forms) — to learn about what they have and what they lack. Some basics include capable laptops/desktops, software, and fast-enough internet connectivity to support audio and video calls.
And remember that tech needs are not going to be all solved at once. “Tech needs are going to cascade in waves,” says Daniel McGinn, executive editor at Harvard Business Review and co-host of the podcast Dear HBR. “Once you get everyone up and communicating on Slack or other tools, you can begin to identify what else they need,” be it new devices like laptops and printers.
And avoid the inclination to leave tech troubleshooting up to your staff. As a manager, this is an area where you can and should take the lead. If your remote employees need new laptops and printers delivered to their homes, or 24-hour IT support, Xerox recently launched a Remote Worker package to help.
How Do You Handle Stuff Like Physical Mail?
One thing that managers moving their teams from physical offices to remote work setups often overlook is: what happens to the organization’s mail, from checks and bills to contracts and legal documents? If everyone’s working from home, who will collect, route and act on it? This is especially true for organizations that process invoices, claims, mail orders and other items sent regularly through “snail mail.” “We’re seeing more and more organizations reaching out with a need for help handling the mail,” says Dave Nesbitt, Global Lead, Capture & Content Services at Xerox.
Fortunately, there are solutions: Xerox’s own Digital Mailroom service can automatically collect your business’s mail, scan it and upload it to secure cloud servers, allowing designated employees to access it and act it on from wherever they are working. Additionally, Xerox’s larger and Capture & Content Services can help organizations digitize information and convert it from physical documents to electronic readable formats.
Understand This: You Can’t Overcommunicate
Talk to your team. Then, talk to them again. Repetition, now more than ever, is a key function of leadership and effective communication. Here’s why: Research shows up to 50 percent of all emails are misunderstood, and many recipients interpret even positive communications like “good job,” as sarcastic or negative, according to Dr. Nick Morgan, founder and CEO of Public Words, a corporate communications consulting firm based out of Boston, and author of the book Can You Hear Me?
“We humans have a negativity bias,” says Morgan. “When we don’t get information that we normally get through our five senses, our brain fills it in with made-up stuff.”
Videoconferencing is obviously one key solution, and some tech savvy firms are even turning to gaming platforms and augmented reality to connect. Being able to see the face that goes with the voice his crucial, Morgan says. His research has shown that as few as 5 percent of all business communications are done over videoconferencing, but he believes 95 percent should be done this way. Shorter is better, though: managers should keep videoconference meetings to 30-45 minutes — after that, attention spans wane.
“If you have a morning team meeting, set that up virtually,” says Xerox’s John Curtis, manager of lease marketing at Xerox Financial Services in the Americas and a 35-year company veteran. The same is true of communications with business partners and customers. Don’t be afraid of reaching out.
Beyond talking to your employees, you must also take time to listen. “Asking how employees are, caring how they feel, and making sure they feel appreciated, that’s something good managers can do remotely right now,” says HBR’s McGinn.
Emphasize Employee Well-Being
HBR recently published a well-received story on how what we’re all going through right now is grief. In light of that, managers should be especially attuned to stress and burnout. Make sure employees that while the should remain productive, it is okayto take breaks, make time for exercise if health permits, log off at the end of the day, follow the latest local government and health authorities’ advice for maintaining good mental and physical well-being.
“If people are working virtually, you can actually overwork,” says Curtis.
Indeed, the instant, always-accessible connectivity afforded by smartphones and online apps such as Slack or Microsoft Teams means that those working from home — both managers and employees alike — find themselves working more than they would during a typical workday in the office and suffering from burnout.
One simple tactic to avoid this is for managers to encourage employees to find dedicated space in their homes for working.
“If you have a space that’s dedicated for work, and once you step out of it, you turn it off, that can be helpful,” says McGinn.
And Managers Should Make Sure to Take Care of Themselves, Too
Being a manager or business owner can sometimes feel quite lonely, with the entire team depending on you for leadership and guidance, but without a shoulder to lean on or a sympathetic ear to listen. It’s lonely at the top, as the saying goes.
To get the support that you need, managers transitioning to remote work should consider reaching out to mentors or other leaders within their company, in their local area, in their industry, or across the world for advice.
“Reach out to the community you already have,” suggests Curtis, “Find a mentor who’s done it before. Or find resource groups online.”
Social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, even Instagram’s Direct Messages and “Close Friends” features, all offer managers the chance to find a community of like-minded and similarly-positioned fellow leaders to help guide them, listen, and solve common remote working issues. To that end, follow Xerox on these platforms, and let us know what’s on your mind. We’re here to help.